SAS: The Authorized Illustrated History of the SAS
There have been several books published about the SAS during WWII. This, however, is the first authorized illustrated version. The pictures have never published before. All material comes from unit archives and recollections or heretofore unpublished memoirs of participants. The tone for the book is set by the Foreword to the manuscript. It was written by Mike Sadler, one of the founding members of the SAS.
The Foreword is poignant. Mr. Sadler wrote: “I can no longer see, but I know these pictures would bring back memories of hardship, danger, sacrifice and loss, as well as great friendships and laughter.” Read on and share all these experiences. You will not regret it!
The notion of an SAS was unique. It was the brainchild of David Sterling. It is worth noting, however, there was an SAS before the SAS—quite an interesting story in itself.
Sterling’s concept was the creation of an elite group of men who would be inserted behind enemy lines to create havoc, interrupt communications, intercept supply lines, and to create all sorts of mayhem. It was a strategic force multiplier as opposed to commandos, paratroopers, rangers, the long-range desert group, and the like, tactical in nature.
“Professional” military leaders do not like the idea of special elite military units. This attitude almost derailed the notion of the SAS. It was an ongoing problem. The only reason Senior British military leaders went along with the formation of the SAS is because Prime Minister Winston Churchill championed the idea.
The success of the concept in North Africa was a result of individual initiative, flexibility, and pragmatic decision making on the part of the participants. Some of these included tactics, development of specialized equipment such as the sun compass, and never giving up on finding solutions to problems.
SAS successes in North Africa set the stage for their use in Southern Europe and beyond. Since fighting in Europe was radically different, the flexibility of SAS members meant change in all facets of SAS operations. There were several SAS groups during the European phase of WWII. Because of the topography, operations required different solutions.
An interesting thread that runs through the book has to do with personnel. In the SAS all members were valued. Comradery was the glue that held the organization together. There was no conflict between those whose jobs focused on the actual conduct of operations and those whose focus was on supporting the combatants. Such cannot be said of traditional military organizations.
Two examples stand out. The presence of Dr. Malcom Pleydell in base camps deep SAS behind enemy lines added to the morale of the troops. When men were wounded, they were in brought to Dr. Pleydell and his compassionate care. In one instance he performed a successful leg amputation in the middle of the shifting desert sands. Even so he “continually questioned his own courage and character.” For all his efforts behind enemy lines he earned the Military Cross.
Another was Father Fraser McLuskey. He wondered if a priest would be accepted by the hardened SAS men. At his first Sunday service he found out. The entire group he was with attended his service and continued to do so. McLuskey refused to carry a weapon as he was a man of peace. He even conducted his fair share of sentinel duty without a weapon. “He was admired by all.”
There are many interesting situations behind enemy lines and elsewhere discussed in this work. Many of them are hysterically funny. Others are tragically depressing. Regardless, all are important and make this book a fascinating read.